The industrial strategy challenge fund will help to drive growth in all parts of the country by using research and development to position us well in global markets where Britain has particular strengths.
Can the Secretary of State explain why his challenge fund is directed at sectors that are dominated by an over-representation of men, while many of the professions in which females are over-represented face low investment, low skills, low pay and low productivity?
Our exchanges this morning show the potential and the strengths that we have in successful sectors such as the automotive, healthcare and medicine, and satellite and space sectors, in which we are creating very good jobs. However, my ambition and my Department’s ambition—which I hope the hon. Gentleman shares—is to increase the proportion of women and other groups who are under-represented in those industries, because there is talent there that we should be using, and part of our drive is to get the best talent into those world-beating industries.
A recent report produced by Sheffield Hallam University found that the challenge fund had too narrow a sectoral focus, which was disproportionately benefiting areas in the south-east at the expense of traditional manufacturing areas in, for instance, the west midlands. What elements of the fund will benefit areas such as mine?
I have not seen the report. I will look at it, but I think it is mistaken. The challenge fund includes, for example, the Faraday challenge, which I launched at the University of Birmingham along with many industrialists and academics from across the west midlands. It is proposed that the west midlands should be at the heart of the challenge. Investment in driverless cars, and in satellites and space, is taking place throughout the country. One of the big features of the challenge fund is that it reaches every part of the country, and, indeed, every part of the United Kingdom.
With Brexit uncertainty mounting, inflation rising, growth faltering, business confidence at a six-year low, and the euro at a record high—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but that is the truth. Our economy therefore needs action from this Government, but instead it is groundhog day, with the same money announced over and over again, which makes it back to the future for our regions, with, as my hon. Friend Mr Bailey indicated, the challenge fund money being shown by Sheffield Hallam research to impact only 1% of the economy, overwhelmingly in the south-east. So will the Secretary of State stop prevaricating, do the right thing and tell us right now what level of regional growth he expects the challenge fund to deliver? Or does he not even know what success looks like any longer?
Talking of groundhog day, the hon. Lady talks complete nonsense. The industrial strategy challenge fund and the industrial strategy Green Paper have been widely welcomed in all parts of the country. After our exchanges, I will send the hon. Lady the support it has had from the north-east of England, of which she should be aware. This is something that has long been called for. I have listed the sectors that will benefit. As we are talking about manufacturing, in terms of her reflections on the state of confidence in the economy, the hon. Lady should know that the EEF last week reported record orders, record export orders, record employment and record investment intention. She should welcome that.